Académie des technologies

Cécile Hardebolle

  • Project Officer, Center for Digital Education
  • EPFL
  • 39 years old
  • Sponsored by Alain Bravo

Why a career in tech?

For me, technology = possibilities + meaning. Tech makes it possible to create new objects, new things with the goal to help humans. It speaks to two rather opposite sides of my personality: a creative side and a very rational side. That's probably why it was an obvious choice in my career.

Your professional experience?

In my training as in my professional career, I have often taken indirect paths. I entered a French engineering Grande Ecole, Supélec, after a university diploma in technology. After a first professional experience in consulting, I finally went back to university to do a PhD in computer science. I worked as a professor assistant in computer science for several years, and 7 years ago, I decided to change direction again and move to Switzerland to become a pedagogical advisor and faculty developer.

Your first experience with technology?

As a young and recently graduated engineer, I joined a software architecture consulting firm. I learned a lot in a very short time and the missions for different clients gave me a great overview of a range of companies and professions. Which led me to understand that this type of career was not for me!

What do you do today, and why?

I support teachers in pedagogical and technological innovation projects at EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne), a Swiss engineering school, since 2014. Since two years, I am more specifically in charge of a project called "Jupyter Notebooks for Education". Notebooks are interactive documents that mix text and executable code. They are widely used in research and their use in teaching is promising for developing students' computational thinking. The goal of the project is to evaluate the impact of these tools on student learning, to identify the most interesting pedagogical scenarios for these tools and to support teachers in their use. An exciting project at the intersection of technology, sciences and education!

Your strengths in this role?

It is a position that requires a good background in computer science for the technological aspects, but also a scientific approach for the evaluation of the implemented pedagogical approaches, and the ability to accompany teachers who are often very experienced - three skills that I was able to develop in my previous professional experiences. As a trained engineer who has taught in several engineering schools, I have a practical understanding of the challenges involved. Finally, the “geek” in me enjoys exploring these new technologies, the “creative” loves to imagine new uses for them and the “rational” is very reassured to collect data to check that it all makes sense!

Past challenges, failures and disappointments?

A few years ago, as I was considering moving position, I had to overcome a situation of conflict at work. It has been very hard, to the point that I could not get up in the morning anymore. It was important for me not to run away from the situation but strive to give back meaning to my work. I sought the advice from a coach, who helped me rebuild my self-confidence and design a new project. It took me almost 2 years to get out of it, but I know now that it was (really!) for the best.

Best moments, successes you’re proud of ?

During my first years at EPFL, I worked a lot on the support to students and developed resources to help them "learn how to learn". With my colleague Roland Tormey, we transformed these resources into a book titled "Apprendre à Etudier – Guide à l'usage des étudiants en sciences et en ingénierie". I was very happy to be able to make these resources available widely, and this was my first book. I honestly didn't expect it to be a huge success - it's clearly not a bestseller - but it did get us a spot on the RTS (Swiss television) news. Our "Apprendre à Etudier" workshop, offered to students entering EPFL upon their arrival on campus, has had more than 700 participants each year: it is the largest group of students I have ever taught! We have then published a MOOC and an online application called the Learning Companion. I found it exciting to base the design of these resources on evidence from research on teaching and learning - a perfect combination of science and engineering!

People who helped, influenced -or made your life difficult?

Some of the teachers I met during my studies believed in me enough to push me to go further, I think in particular of the DUT teachers who encouraged me to continue with an engineering degree and the university teachers who offered me to join their lab to do my PhD. Others have inspired me to become a teacher myself and influenced the design of some of my courses later. I am also very grateful to the amazing colleagues I met in all the teams I joined. I loved working with them and learned a lot from them, many of them even became friends - they will recognize themselves. Finally, it sounds almost mundane to say it but it is so true: my family and friends have always been there for me and have supported me a lot in difficult times.

Your hopes and future challenges?

I have just accepted a new position at EPFL, to work at the Center for Digital Education. In the continuity of the project I mentioned earlier about developing students' computational thinking skills, I will be working with teachers on how to blend ethical reasoning training, in particular in relation to information systems, into the curriculum. This is a challenge because ethics is a complex subject, fundamental to practice as an engineer and yet very little addressed in their training. Great challenges ahead!

What do you do when you don’t work ?

My son will soon be 8 months old, so my days, evenings and nights are quite packed at the moment! On the other hand, the health situation makes it very difficult to see friends currently, so outings are rare and I have to admit that I find this tough. I am part of an international Taoist Tai-Chi association and we have not been able to practice together for more than a year, except for a few times outdoors last summer... Fortunately, we are lucky enough to be able to enjoy Lake Geneva or the nearby mountains for hiking or just getting some fresh air. Apart from that, I love to read (novels, mainly) and I exercise by doing Zumba.

Your heroes -from History or fiction?

One of my favorite heroes is named Po, he is the panda from “Kung-Fu Panda” (yes, I am a fan of cartoons - my big kid side maybe...). While everyone laughs at him and his dream of doing kung-fu, Po becomes a kung-fu master the day he understands that “there is no secret ingredient”. On the importance of believing in yourself to achieve your dreams!

A saying or proverb you like in particular?

“Nobody is expected to do the impossible”: I have to repeat it to myself quite often because I tend to always want to do everything to the end, whatever the conditions, sometimes to the point of exhaustion...

A book to take with you on a desert island?

If we are talking about survival when being alone in the world, then for me THE book adapted to the situation is “The Martian” by Andy Weir. It is packed with engineering and science (and fiction too, of course) and I never get tired of reading and rereading because it's so realistic and exciting.

A message to young female professionals?

Believe in yourself! Even if I know this is far from easy on a daily basis. And don't hesitate to ask for help to overcome difficulties.

THE CHATELET
QUESTIONNAIRE

The questionnaire answered by the Women of Tech is a variant of the Proust questionnaire, named not because Marcel Proust got lost in the Paris metro, but in memory of Emilie du Chatelet, a woman of letters, mathematician and physicist, renowned for her translation of Newton's Principia Mathematica and the dissemination of Leibniz's physics work. She was a member of the Academy of Sciences of the Bologna Institute. Emilie du Chatelet led a free and fulfilled life during the era of the Enlightenment and published a speech on happiness.

Emilie Du Chatelet

Woman of letters, mathematician and physicist

1706 - 1749